I’ve had lots of positive feedback about the “Touchstone Poems” session at the launch. The thing that fascinated me was how many people seemed hungry for that sort of discussion and commentary. I know I am – it’s one of the reasons why I love books like 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem and The Secret Life of Poems. And one of the reasons why I do close readings. But did it come as a surprise to so many people? Is it that we don’t talk enough about poems we love? The actual nuts and bolts of them, not just oh, yeah, that’s not bad?
Then yesterday I came across a blog post by Simon Sweetman about 10 Songs that Changed Your World, which got me thinking about the whole favourite poem business again. What we love, and why. However silly, however sentimental. Maybe it’s a poem that opened your eyes to a new way of doing things (poetrywise or other), or a poem that is the adult equivalent of a toddler’s cuddly blanket. Perhaps it’s a single line from the poem that you keep in your head as a mantra. Or a line that leaps into your mouth whenever you hear a certain combination of words (for me it’s the combination of “under___, over___”, which triggers the automatic response “Wombling free” … yes, I know, I know).
So there’s the challenge. List five of the poems that make up your world, and why (or how, or when). The five poems that you would save from a burning building. Or maybe the five that you would never need to save, because they’re perfectly safe in your own head. I know that this sort of listing can end up being skewed by the perfectly natural desire to select poems that make you look good, or intelligent, or particularly well-read etc etc. Resist the temptation! Be honest – even if one of your five is by Pam Ayres, or Helen Steiner Rice. Or Purple Ronnie. (And if you haven’t read the article where Purple Ronnie’s creator was arguing that he should be poet laureate, have a quick squizz here.) Actually lets make that part of the rules for this. You must include one poem (at least) that isn’t “high literature” – maybe a limerick, or some sort of “light verse”, or bit of folk song, rap lyric etc. This isn’t about judging, it’s about sharing. Taking part in a conversation.
Five “articles of poetry” that are part of the fabric of your life, of who you are, with a short explanation of why they matter to you. I’ll post my five on Monday, and those who feel so inclined can add theirs as comments. But even if you have no desire to share them with the rest of us, do sit down and give five or ten minutes to considering them. Your own personal poetic inventory.